10 Sophomore UFC Fighters Who Will Break out in 2015
With UFC greats calling it quits on a seemingly monthly basis recently, current MMA prospects have huge opportunities to fill big shoes.
As the UFC expanded its schedule over the past several months, it brought in many promising young fighters. Some of those fighters have fallen flat inside the Octagon, but others have taken their first steps toward having a long career with the biggest organization in MMA.
Of the newcomers who make it long term, some will never come close to reaching title contention. Others, though, could climb into the Top 15 in their division as soon as 2015.
Out of those who have debuted over the past seven months, here are the 10 UFC fighters who have the best chance to break out next year.
Led by light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson, Sweden is beginning to become an MMA hotbed. Niklas Backstrom is one of the country's more recent products who are finding success inside the Octagon.
With a 7-0 record in smaller organizations, Backstrom signed with the UFC and debuted in May. In Tom Niinimaki, Backstrom was not eased into the UFC featherweight division by any means. Heading into that bout, Niinimaki had won 12 in a row, including wins over UFC veterans Rani Yahya and Walel Watson.
Nonetheless, Backstrom came out on top in his first UFC showing. The Swede locked up a rear-naked choke in the first round and forced a tap without even securing his leg hooks.
At 24 years old, Backstrom has a bright future ahead of him. Training alongside someone like Gustafsson doesn't hurt and could help him develop into a 145-pound contender down the road. In October, Backstrom will look to take another step forward against Mike Wilkinson.
A 9-0 MMA record was enough to earn Patrick Holohan a spot on the UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs. Brandao card, which was held in the Irishman's home country.
Holohan took advantage of the opportunity to make his debut close to home, submitting Josh Sampo in the first round. Although Sampo had UFC experience, he was unable to take advantage of Holohan's lack of time inside the Octagon.
Only 26 years old, Holohan has plenty of time to develop in the 125-pound division. However, with that weight class still being fairly shallow, The Hooligan could work his way toward title contention as quickly as SBG Ireland teammate Conor McGregor did at 145 pounds.
Beneil Dariush is the only fighter on this list who is coming off a loss, but he has the skill and support system to rebound from that defeat in a big way.
In January, Dariush made his UFC debut with a solid 6-0 record. The Iranian then steamrolled Charlie Brenneman to make it seven in a row. While Brenneman has been struggling recently, he's still a solid fighter who has otherwise only been beaten by established UFC veterans.
Dariush made a quick turnaround to meet Ramsey Nijem in April. That bout did not end as well for him, as he was knocked out in the first round.
A Kings MMA product, Dariush works with a solid team. They should be able to help the 25-year-old get back on track against Tony Martin on August 23. With an impressive win over Martin, Dariush would be right back on the road toward big things in the 155-pound division.
In July, Eddie Gordon knocked out Dhiego Lima to win The Ultimate Fighter 19 middleweight competition. Winning TUF might not mean what it used to, but Gordon has some serious potential.
Stopping Lima showed Gordon has power that should concern everybody he faces. An American Top Team product, Lima came into that bout with a 9-1 record and had never been finished.
Gordon could still use some polishing, but he's at the right place to sharpen his skills. "Truck" is currently training with some of the best in the world, including middleweight champion Chris Weidman, at Serra-Longo Fight Team.
At 31 years old, Gordon isn't likely to be brought along as slowly as other TUF winners. If he's ready, Gordon could make some serious noise in the 185-pound class during 2015.
Kiichi Kunimoto didn't have much chance to put his skills on display when he debuted in January. The Japanese welterweight was blasted with repeated elbows to the back of the head by Luiz Dutra, leading to a disqualification victory.
At UFC 174, Kunimoto scored a much more memorable win. Facing Daniel Sarafian, who had taken Top 10 middleweight CB Dollaway to a split decision, Kunimoto recorded a submission by locking up a rear-naked choke in less than three minutes.
Stopping Sarafian showed that Kunimoto belongs on the UFC roster and could be a serious player in the 170-pound division. In September, he will meet Richard Walsh, whom he should beat soundly if he's going to break out in 2015.
Rob Font put the bantamweight division on notice when he made his first trip to the Octagon in July.
The Team Sityodtong member knocked out George Roop in that outing to record his 10th consecutive victory. With wins over Chan Sung Jung and Brian Bowles, Roop is no pushover, so the fact that Font stopped him in the first round shows that the 27-year-old prospect could become a contender very soon.
In September, Font will meet Chris Beal, a fighter who nearly made this list following a spectacular knockout in his own UFC debut. Should Font beat Beal convincingly, he may already be prepared for a bout with a ranked fighter in the 135-pound class.
Set to meet No. 7 bantamweight contender Iuri Alcantara in September, Russell Doane might break out before 2015 even comes around.
Doane has earned his bout with Alcantara by winning his first two UFC fights. The Hawaiian opened with a submission win over Leandro Issa and more recently defeated an underrated Marcus Brimage on the scorecards.
Considering his close contest with Brimage, I don't think Doane is quite ready for Alcantara. However, at 27 years old, Doane will have many more chances to break through. He could have a spot in the Top 15 bantamweight rankings at some point in 2015.
Serra-Longo Fight Team is quickly turning into one of the best camps in MMA.
Gordon isn't the only up-and-comer working with Weidman at the gym. Now 2-0 inside the Octagon, Aljamain Sterling is also looking like a future star being developed on Long Island, New York.
In February, he opened his UFC career with a decision win over Cody Gibson. More comfortable inside the Octagon the second time around, Sterling put together a more dominant performance against Hugo Viana in July, stopping the fight with strikes in the third round.
Only 25 years old, Sterling could end up being a championship-caliber competitor in the bantamweight class. Working with the Serra-Longo Fight Team only improves his chances of reaching the top.
Carlos Diego Ferreira
With a 9-0 record in smaller promotions such as Legacy FC, Carlos Diego Ferreira was a very solid signing for the UFC lightweight division.
In his Octagon debut against Colton Smith, Ferreira showed he'll be tough to deal with on the ground. Smith had been doing his best work on the canvas, but Ferreira took the TUF winner down and locked up a submission in only 38 seconds.
Already having scored six submission victories, Ferreira is not going to be a fun opponent for any 155-pounder to deal with. That includes Ramsey Nijem, who has been submitted twice in his career. Ferreira will meet Nijem on August 30 in a matchup that could move the Brazilian another step forward.
Patrick Cummins scored four straight wins outside the UFC before he began having trouble finding bouts. Eventually, the world's top MMA promotion came calling to use him as a replacement opponent against Daniel Cormier. It was hardly an ideal debut matchup, but the fight got Cummins' foot in the door.
As most expected, Cormier ran through Cummins, ending the fight in less than two minutes. For Cummins, it was a learning experience against one of the very best in the light heavyweight division.
Now taking a more realistic approach toward the top, he has won two in a row. Dominating Roger Narvaez and Kyle Kingsbury, Cummins looks like a fighter who is ready for a big step up in competition. He might not see a Top 15 light heavyweight next, but Cummins should have a chance to break through in 2015.